Oregon is set to enter a temporary lockdown on November 18th. I suspect it will be a longer one, as winter moves in bringing cold and flus and all manner of lower immune system issues during the colder months. I’m preparing as though the two-weeks will last much longer.
In meantime, I’m catching up on my Nanowrimo wordcount and tinkering away in the studio.
For Fans of The Pillars of Dawn
My favorite part of the Nanowrimo magic is that for one month of the year my writing doesn’t have a plot-point purpose. This means I get to wander off on side adventures with minor characters, or traipse around in the corners of my fictional worlds that I would otherwise not be able to show or work with in my novels.
Why? Because novels and publication reads are streamlined for story value and pacing. This means when I put a novel out, I would like my readers to be hooked enough to keep turning the page, read late into the night and wake up ready for more.
That kind of tension and pull is hard to design if I’m wandering off on side adventures and writing a meandering storyline. J. R. R. Tolkien was famous for meandering storylines. He made it work. Alas, I’m no Tolkien.
I think of meandering through the world and characters as a fulfilling the side quests in games. They aren’t central to the plot or purpose, but you gain experience and it fleshes out the world and characters more for entertainment.
Every Nanowrimo for the last 16 years I’ve been participating has been at least 50% meandering, and I love it. It’s writing for the sheer joy of writing. It’s creating for the unapologetic love of being creative. There are no limits to where the side-quests might lead. Some of the work ends up in the final novels. Some of it ends up in files for use later. Most of it crowds my brain with yet more detail to add to future Pillars of Dawn stories and so on. Every year I get to dive a little deeper into the fantasy realm and linger in my imagination. (2015/2016 were spent almost entirely in the tree-city of Barriette learning the layers of the city, the layout, and the characters who populate the scholarly zone.)
This year I finally get to soak up more time in Aria outside the Council States…the forbidden lands. Unfortunately, a lot of the details and energy that go into a rough-hewn V1 get trimmed back and cut out for speed and pacing for publication. However, the slapdash writing that comes with a V1 dip into a new region is exciting and lush. It is often over-detailed, which is my sort of jam.
As Plague of Gargoyles, Tangle of Mermaids, Chord of Leviathans, and Congress of Eagles will be introducing no less than six new territories and cultures on Aria and beyond, I’m having an utter blast with this year’s Nanowrimo. This will hopefully ensure that when I finalize these drafts, all the subtle details and nuances of my meanderings will cross-pollinate the books evenly and share the names of places, characters, threads, and sensory details of what I learn or create while in a meandering side-adventure.
For my readers—I’m currently meandering through the Demorphia Range, the Oracle territories. Beware: may contain spoilers. Also this is V1 draft writing; it’s full of typos (also my jam) and will be edited and corrected in later drafts.
This is for you, John Folsom, and Diane Elizabeth Malone <3<3<3
Liam stood on a hilltop overlooking the valley of twisting muddy rivers. The swampy jungle region was as much bayou as overgrown forest, and smelled of fetid gasses and vegetal decomposition. There was a current in the water, but it was slow. Swirls below the surface hinted at beasts prowling below the brackish sway.
The Demorphia Range was Oracle territory. It was one of the few regions on Aria that was not a country, state, or governed by a trade body, or a sovereign entity. In all there were a handful of hinterlands on Aria that were off limits to citizens of the Council States, and were of such little resource value even the tribal bodies, and lental lords didn’t bother to colonize, or claim the space.
Many believed the ancient pollution from the sundering legends left the lands unusable, toxic. Other’s believed the areas were damaged when the Inlicitus cracked—whatever the case, the Demorphia Range was settled by the Oracles. Whether the land was useful or not, no one would be brazen or foolish enough to cross the Handmaidens of the Fates to find out. If the Oracles wanted the Demorphia, it was granted a wide berth by all. Very few, if any, had ever ventured beyond the girdled mountain belt north of the Demorphic Wastes, and if they did—they didn’t return.
As it was, Liam was in direct violation of treaty just to be on the ground south of Fifthbar’s Peak. As a Guardian, he was breaking a lot of rules lately. Before he let himself get too deep into the worries of just how unqualified he was to be Fable’s Guardian…and husband, he launched skyward and flew toward the grove of Aborrack and Burnack trees clustered near the marshy mudflats. The sun was setting in a spectacular parade of plum and cherry hues. Small bursts of amber light were popping up in the settlement along the river near the largest bend.
He prayed the Oracles would hear him out, and not simply turn him into mattress stuffing before he could make his case.
The last of the light faded over the horizon as he circled the village of tree-homes along the river frontage. He spotted a long wooden pier that appeared to be mostly rotted through in some areas, and several habitats in Aborrack trees. The vegetation was so thick, there weren’t many other places to make a landing.
He circled out of courtesy, waiting to be noticed by someone before rudely and dangerously, dropping into foreign, and potentially hostile territory. There were no calls of alarm. There were no words of welcome or a sense that anyone had noticed his approach. The gassy stink of the slow marsh wafted up. Something moved in the water below, breaking the surface briefly with a ridged back covered in spikes.
At last, unsure if he was even in the right area, he landed on the pier. It creaked and strained. His right talons broke through a rotten board and Liam flapped his wings, staggering to keep his balance. A rapid swish of water, and a massive maw of teeth burst out of the river and snapped at him before disappearing just as Liam decided the pier was too unstable and launched to the shore. It all happened in an instant, but when his talons touched down on the squishy muck, his heart was racing.
“He would have taken your whole leg and part of a wing if you’d been any slower,” an amused voice said from the shadows near the muddy path.
“What was that?” Liam asked, squinting into the gloom.
A moment passed, then another. He began to think for a moment he’d imagined it. Then, as if the heavens fell to the ground, and the stars lit the world on fire, the whole swamp burst to life and light.
Giant night-blooming flowers, bulbous mushrooms and snaking algae trails across the bracken erupted into a light show of magenta, phosphorus blue, and electric green. There was darkness for just moments at dusk, then the glowing night garden bloomed as if an explosion in space.
Florescent flowers opened in a starburst of pink light and curling petals. Lime-green vines pulsed with a lemon rhythm as if bright liquids sped through pulpy limbs wrapped around tree trunks and dangled through mossy limbs.
Liam covered his eyes as swarms of blinking fireflies and glowing moths left their day shelters in the trees and zipped around the marsh as the land shed its day garments and slipped into something more extraordinary.
“He’s a trephalia gunarey. Likely one of maybe four or five remaining,” she said.
Liam lowered his hands and blinked against the change in light and colors. The creature before him was Avian, yet more bird, more snowy egret than human. She wore a short robe, showing her legs to be avian all the way to her knees. Her eyes were huge, cheekbones high, and her mouth drew to an exaggerated point at the end of an elongated chin. Humanoid features were recognizable—but she was more animal than woman.
“Your first Oracle visit, I see.” She lifted one white eyebrow, smiling wryly.
“I…yes…” He ducked his head. “I’m sorry. You are the first. I’m Liam.”
“Kontrae aut alestra,” she replied. “I’m Aldora, sent to bring you in.”
“Oh, someone did see my approach. I wasn’t sure with the dark.” Even as he said it, the brilliant glowing marshlands in the bloom of a midnight fairy garden made the statement seem ridiculous.
“Oracles…” she muttered. “saw your approach decades ago.” She shrugged and her robes slit open to allow long, slender white wings to glide the full length of the pathway. “Please try to keep up.”
She didn’t jump. She didn’t lunge. Her launch was not a blast, or a gust of force like so many Avians, but a nearly motionless levitation. She did not leap, but rather drifted up above the muck and slid through the air as if hovering with only an occasional elegant stroke of her wings.
By comparison Liam launched, blowing the nearby glowing magenta flowers around on their willowy hanging vines. Aldora was fast, nibble, and barely moved the air with her passing. Whereas Liam struggled to keep up with hard heavy strokes, dodging limbs and hanging vegetation, leaving mossy curtains billowing in his wake—she didn’t so much as stir a blade of grass or a trailing fern in her passing.
The tree homes were Aborrack, a sibling of the Burnack trees of the Hedgeland Strait. They grew comfortably in water, sending out leggy roots upon which bridges, piers, and other structures were connected. Several of the trees were clumped together with lighted windows and doorways. As they drew near to the circle of tree-homes he realized the roots were elevated and interwoven. The great bubble-like windows were aglow with golden light that was not from within the tree, but from the sap pouch filled with marsh gas that sparked to life at nightfall. The gasses of the marshlands were piped directly into the giant sap resin casings, and the result was as if coming upon a well-lit fairy metropolis. Even Barriette had not been so well lit at night.
Thank you for reading. More to come. Thank you for supporting the dream.